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January 28, 2019 (Cleveland)

The Center Releases Data on Allied Health Professional Workforce Shortages

Allied Health Professional Workforce ShortagesA 2018 survey of Northeast Ohio hospitals and allied health higher education programs by The Center for Health Affairs has identified significant allied health professional workforce shortages. Most notably, a tremendous gap exists between the demand for and supply of medical assistants in the region. Participating hospitals reported a total of 208 medical assistant vacancies, while allied health professional schools only graduated 78 medical assistants during the 2016-2017 academic year.

These findings are based on a survey conducted in June through September 2018 of six hospitals and 10 educational institutions. The purpose was to gain a deeper understanding of the supply, by academic institutions, and the demand, by hospitals, of 10 specific types of allied health professionals (AHPs):

  • Medical lab technicians
  • Medical lab scientists
  • Medical assistants
  • Respiratory therapists
  • Surgical technicians
  • Pharmacy technicians
  • Sterile processing technicians
  • Social workers (LISWs & LPCCs)
  • General sonographers
  • Vascular sonographers 

Hospitals reported their demand for AHPs is currently strong and likely to grow even stronger as they lose current AHP staff to retirement. While members of the allied health workforce are aging and the retirement rate is increasing, five of six hospitals plan to replace all of their retiring allied health professionals. As a result, the lack of qualified AHP employment candidates is hospitals’ top allied health workforce concern. Hospitals reported they expect to have at a minimum “a little bit of difficulty” and more likely “a lot of difficulty” finding qualified AHPs in the next five years.

Hospitals reported current job vacancies for all but medical lab scientists. The greatest demand is for:

  • Medical assistants
  • Respiratory therapists
  • Surgical techs
  • Pharmacy techs 

With the exceptions of sterile processing techs and social workers, all hospitals anticipate the same or an increased number of AHP job vacancies in the next five to 10 years. 

On the supply side, schools are facing a number of barriers to meeting demand for AHPs. These barriers prevent programs from maximizing their current program capacity or expanding. A lack of clinical sites for rotations was reported as the primary impediment to producing graduates. While all programs have clinical rotation sites, access to additional sites would allow them to accept more students into their programs.

AHP programs also reported the lack of academically qualified applicants as a challenge in filling their programs. While there is student interest in AHPs, many applicants did not meet the minimum entrance criteria. Similarly, schools reported that the recruitment of faculty is also hampered by a lack of applicants who meet necessary qualifications.

The survey findings point to some potential solutions for addressing allied health professional workforce shortages, including:

  • Increasing the number of AHP clinical rotation slots hospitals make available to AHP programs.
  • Developing a pipeline or easy transition from AHP student to hospital employee.
  • Partnering with high schools to offer AHP vocational training to students as part of their high school curriculum.
  • Exploring whether current AHP hospital staff can assist with AHP program faculty shortage.
  • Investigating the feasibility of providing AHP programs with classroom space or other facilities-related support.

The survey results will be provided to hospitals and schools in support of any collaborative efforts they wish to pursue that best suit their plans around workforce development.

MORE: For more on The Center’s survey on allied health professional workforce shortages, contact us.

TWEETABLE: A 2018 survey of #NEOhio hospitals and #alliedhealth higher education programs by @neohospitals has identified significant allied health professional workforce shortages.